National Fried Chicken Day arrives on July 6, but Americans hardly need a special day to celebrate this comfort food favorite. While 55% of consumers agree that chicken is a healthier choice than beef or pork, according to Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report, fried still leads as the top chicken preparation in restaurants, per Technomic’s MenuMonitor. Indulgence and craveability seem to trump health when eating out. Although traditional fried chicken entrees are still popular, operators are increasingly differentiating with flavor variations, ethnic ingredients and creative riffs to catch consumers’ attention. These are some of the latest iterations to fly onto menus.
1. Say it with flowers
At Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago’s Hotel Palomar, chef Shane Graybeal puts a summery spin on the prep by topping Honey-Spiced Fried Chicken with chive blossoms. More than a garnish, customers are directed to pull the flower head apart and sprinkle the petals over the chicken to add a delicate onion flavor to the dish. In the Southern tradition, Graybeal serves “Tennessee caviar” (black-eyed peas) on the side.
2. Shore birds
In keeping with its seaworthy menu, Shaw’s Crab House recently debuted Chesapeake Fried Chicken on both its brunch buffet and dinner menu. The coating on the free-range half chicken is seasoned with Old Bay, a dry spice blend typically used for Maryland-style crab and shrimp.
3. Give me some skin
The three Denver-area locations of Pinche Taqueria (aka Tacos Tequila Whiskey) menu crispy fried chicken skins with salsa as a snack to nibble with cocktails and beer. The Chicken Chicharrones, as they are listed on the happy hour menu, go for $3 a portion. They’re also available on the main menu for $4.
4. The chicken or the egg?
Lucy’s Fried Chicken is also getting into the skin game at its four Austin, Texas-area outposts. Deep-Fried Deviled Eggs on the appetizer menu feature four buttermilk-breaded deviled eggs with crunchy chicken skin aioli ($6.25). Also available as an app are fried chicken gizzards with dill cream sauce.
5. Sweet smoke
The newest limited-time offer at Popeyes puts a little sweetness into the fried chicken coating and a little smoke into the accompanying sauce. For Sweet & Crunchy Tenders, the LSR chain batters its marinated white-meat chicken tenders with a shortbread cookie coating and contrasts the sweet flavor with Smokin’ Pepper Jam Sauce.
6. Mashing it up
Rock & Brews, the concept started by Kiss musician Gene Simmons, is serving up Sweet Heat Fried Chicken. The global-regional fried chicken mashup combines a multitextured peppery coating paired with white sausage gravy and Asian cilantro sauce. According to Rock & Brews’ Facebook page, it was so popular at brunch that the chain had to offer it on the dinner menu too.
7. A healthier take
Boston Market is going for the healthy angle with its new Oven-Crisp Chicken Strips. The LTO promotes the product as a healthier option, stressing the fact that the hand-breaded white-meat chicken strips are baked—not fried—to achieve their crispy crust. To further get the point across, the chain rolled out No Fry Friday deals during the month of June.